Day Writing by Heather Hamilton Maude: Nurse Cows
March 29, 2019
We were given a Holstein heifer as a wedding present. It was a truly generous gift, and I am grateful for her. She has also proven very useful, especially when we have sets of twins. However, this particular Holstein and I do not see eye to eye, and I have dubbed her, "The Stupid Holstein."
This year she passed her genius to her calf – a Brown Swiss bull calf that was obtained through AI'ing her with sexed heifer semen last spring. The semen company boasts a 98 percent chance of a heifer calf when using their sexed dairy semen. Not that it mattered much. On his first day outside, the little guy found the only mud puddle in the pen, laid in it overnight, chilled down, and died.
So began the process of finding a home for the five gallons of milk the Holstein was creating each day. My husband was heading this effort, due to the cow's and my inability to get along. But, last week he and the neighbor headed east on an overnight trip to pick up a corn planter, which is how I ended up with a 5 a.m. date with the Holstein and two calves.
I let her in the appropriate pen, put corn in her pan, got calf A going, and proceeded to calf B. Calf B had arrived the night before from the neighbor's, and he wasn't that perky of a fellow. By the time we started making headway, the Holstein had vacuumed up all her corn, and being agreeable slipped further off her radar.
She started her slow-motion spinning, half-hearted cow kicking, and excruciatingly careful "slamming" off the panels of her pen. On it went, regardless of slapping her side, kicking her belly, yelling, and anything else I could think of as I tried to hold calf B near her udder.
She wasn't having it. This same cow caused numerous problems her first two years on our place due to letting any and everything nurse her, which I was recalling as my temper flared.
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Eventually, I had to leave to make a butcher hog delivery. I left her in an 8×8 pen for the day to think about her life choices, with zero sympathy over her still-tight bag. I spent the next couple hours of drive time pondering just what went into developing the Hostein breed. My thoughts developed as follows:
Over time, they have clearly bred all the nerves out of a Holstein's side and stomach, making a "get her attention" kick or slap useless.
They've slowed them down to the point they do everything in slow motion, which is hard on human nerves.
There is one exception – Holsteins can obtain lightening speed when they see an open gate to somewhere they aren't suppose to be, or a cracked door to a building housing feed. I believe they use their tongue, and, in our cow's case, her single horn, to pry open sliding doors and gain access to sheds and barns.
They have the mothering ability of a gnat, and their desire to find their calf, or any calf for that matter, is directly tied to how tight their bag is.
They're also bi-polar, and may love a calf one day, and kick his head off the next. Last year, we put a couple calves on the Holstein, and one had to nurse from behind every single time, because the cow took a dislike to that calf.
They eat like a grizzly bear just out of hibernation, so you about have to get multiple calves on them to help cover the feed bill.
They're gigantic in stature, making it nearly impossible to utilize standard cattle equipment when they do something like not letting a calf suck.
They can sense when a bucket/bottle/container is almost full of milk, and will wait until that point to kick it over.
Whoever developed them must have been motivated by starting and ending each day angry.
By that evening, this thought process had been rolling around in brain for several hours, along with a plan to combat and best her in her own game. It took some slow and steady doing, but before long I had lured her into the heifer calf pulling pen with a corn bucket, and secured her in place.
Then, both calves got supper.
The Holstein was far from impressed, the calves were soon full, and I was happy. It is possible that whoever developed Holsteins didn't actually want every day to begin and end with anger. But, I'm still skeptical.